Decoupling of impact factors reveals the response of German winter wheat yields to climatic changes
Yield development of agricultural crops over time is not merely the result of genetic and agronomic factors, but also the outcome of a complex interaction between climatic and site-specific soil conditions. However, the influence of past climatic changes on yield trends remains unclear, particularly under consideration of different soil conditions. In this study, we determine the effects of single agrometeorological factors on the evolution of German winter wheat yields between 1958 and 2015 from 298 published nitrogen (N)-fertilization experiments. For this purpose, we separate climatic from genetic and agronomic yield effects using linear mixed effect models and estimate the climatic influence based on a coefficient of determination for these models. We found earlier occurrence of wheat growth stages, and shortened development phases except for the phase of stem elongation. Agrometeorological factors are defined as climate covariates related to the growth of winter wheat. Our results indicate a general and strong effect of agroclimatic changes on yield development, in particular due to increasing mean temperatures and heat stress events during the grain-filling period. Except for heat stress days with more than 31°C, yields at sites with higher yield potential were less prone to adverse weather effects than at sites with lower yield potential. Our data furthermore reveal that a potential yield levelling, as found for many West-European countries, predominantly occurred at sites with relatively low yield potential and about one decade earlier (mid- 1980s) compared to averaged yield data for the whole of Germany. Interestingly, effects related to high precipitation events were less relevant than temperature-related effects and became relevant particularly during the vegetative growth phase. Overall, this study emphasizes the sensitivity of yield productivity to past climatic conditions, under consideration of regional differences, and underlines the necessity of finding adaptation strategies for food production under ongoing and expected climate change.